Review: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

Title: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Author: Scott Stambach
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, YA
Source: Free ARC from St. Martin’s Press

Rating: A+

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: The Fault in Our Stars this is not. Both YA? Ok. Sick kids? Yeah. Outside of that, I see little else in common. But, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is just as good, for totally different reasons. There is so much more to this story than the feelings of two sick teenagers. Ivan’s whole life has essentially been one big disappointment. Physically, he’s a mess. Emotionally, probably even more so. He’s lived his whole life in a hospital, with no parents, and very little affection outside of his relationship with his beloved nurse Natalya. His access to the world has been vastly limited, so he lives a lot in his own head and makes a game out of everything. When Polina comes into his life, he finds a smattering of hope, and he begins to experience things he never thought he would. He learns more about himself, gets a taste of what love could be like, and his life is changed in ways he never could have expected.

I loved Ivan, even when he didn’t seem so lovable. I love that this book made me think about my own feelings about the sick and disabled and how they are often dehumanized, how those with physical deformities that make society uncomfortable are often hidden in the shadows, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, and treated as other by everyone around them.

Although a lot of this book deals with death and loss, the isolation and disability aspects screamed at me, probably because I have two children with autism. Of course, autism isn’t as visible as Ivan’s physical deformities, but I spend a lot of time thinking about how my children experience the world, and how other people treat them. Because of my own personal experience, I felt particularly drawn in to this story, sucked in and then wrung out.

There is a lot in this book that is unsettling, that shakes your foundation a little, that makes you uncomfortable and then makes you question why it makes you uncomfortable, and I think that’s what I love most about it. It is sometimes a bit raw, and very revealing, and emotional, and painful, and it is a book that needs to be read.

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